creative writing

An intro to the concrete essay

Worst Case Scenario” is what I’d call a concrete essay following in the lineage of concrete poets, except that it achieves much of what they did not…

[It] is worthy of recovering not simply because of how often visual writing gets passed over in magazines and anthologies where our best essays are celebrated, but because through it Wortman is recovering a long tradition by asking it to work harder.”

~ Sarah Minor, “Recovering from Descent”, Essay Daily

Today I want to share another interesting form I discovered as I researched visual essays for my new e-course on the intersection of CNF and visual art.

The concrete essay evolved from the concrete poem, which has its roots in pattern poetry.

Shape poems go back a long way, perhaps as far back as ancient Greece. In western culture, some of the earliest recorded pattern poems are attributed to 17th century Welsh poet and celebrated devotional lyricist, George Herbert.


“Easter Wings”, George Herbert, published in The Temple, 1633.

Early typographic formalists, like Herbert, saw how the structure of a poem held possibility for communicating deeper meaning–reinforcing the message of the text, suggesting metaphor.

In my new course, we explore the evolution of the concrete essay with stunning examples by celebrated CNF writers such as Jennifer Wortman, Sarah Minor, and Amaris Ketcham–whose “Recorded Lightning” was the winner of Creative Nonfiction magazine’s 2016 “The Weather” contest.

If you’d like to learn more about the concrete essay, be sure to take a peek at my free mini-lesson–a Powerpoint presentation with audio produced for my new e-course on creative nonfiction’s compelling visual forms.

I hope you enjoy learning more about the concrete essay. I’ve truly fallen for the visual essay because it holds so many exciting possibilities for innovative storytelling!

For a more in-depth look at the visual essay–including an intro to the photo essay and pictorial essay–join the next session of CNFO2, which kicks off Monday!

Just like CNF Outliers, this e-course includes inspiring readings, exclusive Q and As with innovative CNF writers, discussions in our private forum, and the opportunity to receive feedback on new work.

This week I’m offering a $20 discount to my mail list subscribers. Registration for CNFO2 closes at midnight PST on Sunday, June 17–or sooner, if all 10 spots are filled!

To confirm a spot is available and complete registration, please email nicole(at)

Important Registration Information
Course dates: June 18 to July 30
Course details: CNFO2: CNF’s Visual Forms
Course fee: $349 USD  $329 USD

For course curriculum and other details, please visit the e-course landing page — or drop me a line if you have any questions!